In military applications, headlights allow adversaries to detect a vehicle’s presence, in some cases from long distances away.
Darpa—the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who first devised the internet—are trying to address this with their “invisible headlights” research, which seeks to discover and quantify information contained in ambient thermal emissions in various environments and create new passive 3D sensors and algorithms to exploit that information.
The researchers’ premise is since everything gives off some thermal energy, the goal is to find out what information can be captured from even an extremely small amount of thermal radiation. In turn, this information would be used to develop algorithms and passive sensors into a 3D scene for navigation.
According to Darpa, the program
includes three phases:
• Discovery, to determine if thermal emissions contain sufficient information to enable autonomous driving at night or underground;
• Optimisation, to refine models, experimental designs, and ensure system feasibility for achieving 3D vision at both low and high speeds and high speeds
• Advanced prototypes, to build and test passive demonstration systems that compete with active sensors.
Dr. Joe Altepeter, who joined Darpa’s
Defense Sciences Office last September, says “If we’re successful, the
capability of invisible headlights could extend the environments and types of
missions in which autonomous assets can operate at night, underground, in the
arctic, and in fog”.